After the Great Fire of 1871, as Chicago began to re-build, it quickly became a national center in musical instrument manufacturing, sales and distribution, particularly with the introduction of mail order catalogs, like Sears & Roebuck and Montgomery Wards. From well known brands like Lyon and Healy, Washburn, Regal, Kay and Harmony to a wealth of small but influential shops, such as the Larson Brothers, it was Chicago, more than any other city in the world, that put musical instruments in the hands of players of all levels.
Roots musician and folklorist Chris Vallillo has restored and collected Illinois stringed instruments for over 30 years and will discuss the development of Illinois instrument building, as he performs period music on over a dozen historic examples of these important instruments, from handmade masterpieces to $3.00 mail order gems. He makes the people and places of “unmetropolitan” America come to life in song. Having spent the last 30 years in the rural Midwest, he has a natural affinity for American roots music.
Always a project oriented artist, in the early 2000’s, Vallillo began creating one man shows using music as the vehicle to explore a subject or theme. His 2008 project, Abraham Lincoln in Song, received the endorsement of the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission and the accompanying CD of music reached #10 on Billboard’s Bluegrass Album Chart. In 2016, his latest recording, Oh Freedom! Songs of the Civil Rights Movement charted at # 6 on the folk charts and 2018 the show was produced as a fully theatrical performance featuring a band and a live choir.
He twice served as the Illinois State Scholar for the Smithsonian Institution’s traveling exhibit on roots music New Harmonies. In 2013 he released The Last Day of Winter, (#14 on the Folk DJ Charts) and produced the double CD set “Midwest Folklife Festival” for the Illinois Arts Council. He also scored and recorded the music for the documentary film “Witness to History” all while maintaining a full touring schedule. In 2016, his latest recording, Oh Freedom! Songs of the Civil Rights Movement charted at # 6 on the folk charts. He produced the sound track for a series of videos for the The Illinois Freedom Project for the Lincoln Home National Historic Site and the music for the nationally syndicated radio program Lincoln in Words and Letters for the WFMT radio network. He is currently touring the theatrical version of Oh Freedom!, most recently performed at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum on Juneteenth of 2019. In 2020 the video of the WIU performance of Oh Freedom! was syndicated on Illinois Public Television. In 2021 Vallillo took his Hickory Ridge Concert Series live stream and became the co-producer and host of the live stream/podcast Lincoln Conversations for the Abraham Lincoln National Heritage Area.
This program is free of cost for NMM Members!
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